Mentoring for At-Risk Nomadic Girls in Rural Niger

by Rain for the Sahel and Sahara
1st graders enter thatch classroom in Tatararat.
1st graders enter thatch classroom in Tatararat.

Thanks to the local community women who serve as mentors to at-risk students, schools are sprouting up throughout the rural hamlets surrounding Ingui, a village in the Tillaberi region of Niger. Acting as guides and ambassadors for our Access to Education program for at-risk girls, the dedicated efforts of these local women have inspired their communities to develop and support local schools since RAIN initiated the program in 2009. Stalwart mentors personally conducted outreach efforts into isolated areas, one student at a time, engaging in dialogue with parents, resulting in unprecedented numbers of local nomadic and rural children enrolled in school. Rural schools in Niger are built by the government in response to local demand. By helping Ingui communities create this demand, mentors have successfully expanded the formal education system to many children who were previously beyond its reach.

Primary schools of Ingui were few and far between. Like most children living in remote desert regions of Niger, students walked several miles daily to attend school. For example, one of the top local students would walk 16 miles to class and home each day, apologizing for sometimes falling asleep during lessons. Distance is not the only challenge to access to primary education: desert temperatures can regularly soar above 90 degrees by 9AM, reaching 100-110 degrees over the course of the day.

New schools in rural areas often have a dismal start in terms of infrastructure. Some classrooms begin as stick frames with mat wind blockers. Other communities build adobe classrooms out of mud bricks. School furniture is a rarity; children usually sit on the sandy ground or on leftover mud bricks until cement classrooms are built and furniture is supplied.

Extreme poverty prevents parents from sending their children to school – they either feel they need the child to help at home or they are unable to afford uniforms, books and school fees. To households such as these, struggling simply to survive, it can seem beneficial for children to collect water or herd animals that serve as the family’s savings bank rather than attend school.

The five women mentors trained to serve as local activists and counselors went to work encouraging community members from the surrounding area not only to send their children to school, but to join in the initiatives created to support education. School attendance rose significantly as a result, culminating in the creation of a cement classroom in 2010 and, in 2011, the construction of six elementary school classrooms. Three years later, these rooms are filled to capacity with learning children.

As another component of the Access to Education program, RAIN piloted a three-month basic literacy training to teach mentors in their native Tamasheq language. As newly-literate adults, they are able to fully appreciate and understand the importance of being able to read and write. This appreciation fuels their commitment to ensure that local children receive a formal education, and aids them in effectively communicating to unschooled adults why it’s important for their children to ‘sit at the desk all day’ and learn, rather than helping with household tasks.

Expanding the Mentoring Program to Follow New Schools

As the mentors recruited greater numbers of students from surrounding hamlets, families began to insist that their children attend schools closer to home. New schools grow in correlation with the local student population. At first, a new school is simply one classroom of first graders. In general, a classroom is added to the school following enrollment each year, although in communities with a low population density, schools sometimes enroll students every other year. The government is struggling to find enough teachers for existing schools, a shortage which often results in large class sizes.

RAIN's Access to Education program was designed to follow school growth by adding one new mentor for each of the four new elementary schools. New mentors have joined the women of Ingui to guide and support the growing school population, shadowing experienced mentors, ensuring that the program maintains its quality as the schools grow. The women split their time between their sponsored students at the Ingui Elementary School and students in their own communities. 

The Bigger Picture

As the demand for quality schooling in rural Niger grows, communities are coming together in efforts to garner greater investment in education for their children. Just as RAIN mentors drew children from the countryside to the Ingui school, it is expected that the new schools located in nearby hamlets will draw new students from even further afield.

In just five short years, the RAIN mentoring program has succeeded in fostering school growth, prioritizing education as a base for community wide development in Ingui and other marginalized hamlets in Niger. By promoting the value of formal schooling among nomadic communities, with a focus on girls’ education, Ingui’s mentors have proven that the dreams of nomadic families for a better life for their children can become a reality.

"Mentoring has changed my life a lot. It has helped me realize many things that I ignored before. These are the same things that I can see changing little by little in my community.

An example of my work is that none of the girls I mentor have married early. Only after being expelled from school have parents married their girls. Parents let their children finish school." - Mentor Houdeyja Ramnan – Tatararat (hamlet near Ingui)

Elementary students of Ezak Tahount
Elementary students of Ezak Tahount


Girls in Seiga
Girls in Seiga

Your steady support in 2014 has changed the lives of thousands of nomadic women and girls in Niger. 130 mentors guided 600 at-risk girls through primary school. Savings & Loan groups and income generating activities brought learning and financial opportunity to mentors. 

Education is a tree that when nurtured, gives more each year. Children find the path to their transformation into adults, income opportunities increase family stability, and financial savvy empowers women to be self-sufficient. Your contribution is nothing less than an investment in desert women and girls to shape their own futures within an array of learning and earning groups that together raise the economic and educational well-being of the local population. 

Thank you so much for your friendship and partnership throughout the year. 
Enjoy this video reviewing all we've accomplished together in 2014.

Happy New Year from all of us and your many friends in Niger!


True lasting change is achieved through learning - in school, under the compassionate gaze of a woman mentor. This year, in rural Niger, where only one in ten girls make it to the 3rd grade, 30 women mentored over 600 at-risk girls, who returned to school in numbers 20% greater than their unmentored peers with your help.  

You've generously given to this project because you're passionate about education for at-risk girls. On Giving Tuesday, December 2, Microsoft YouthSpark will be matching every donation to our Mentoring program on This is a wonderful opportunity to share your passion with a gift donation in honor of someone special. Or, just sharing the project on Giving Tuesday with friends and family will be a win for the women and girls working so hard against all odds.

In this season of sharing, give a piece of your heart -- give the gift of possibility for nomadic girls.

Thank you for your caring spirit, and the very best wishes for the holidays!

Bess Palmisciano
Founding Director 

"My name is Aichatou and I'm a Grade 3 student at the primary school of my village Iférouane, 250 kilometers north of Agadez. Our mentors have taught us embroidery in linen, crocheting, cooking and hygiene advice. Before I didn't know about any of these things. Now with the mentoring initiated by RAIN, I wash my hands before eating and leaving the toilet with water and soap. I have made a tablecloth and share my knowledge with all my sisters who do not have mentors. We are very much thankful to RAIN, which is really the friend of nomadic children." 

Halima (2nd from L) with students & founder Bess
Halima (2nd from L) with students & founder Bess

“I would like to be Prime Minister or work for an NGO. I want to help the people in my village and my family and fight against terrible diseases.” - ALC Student Faji Hamid

In Niger, girls rarely progress to the 4th grade and 1 in 3 is married before the age of 15. The girls RAIN works with face the additional challenge presented by their remote desert location. Only 2% of girls in Niger make it to secondary school. A good education, like rain, is scarce here — especially for girls. And finding a secure and supportive place to live to persue that education is even scarcer.

New opportunity for nomadic students is found at the Agadez Learning Center – a safe and nurturing home away from home - a place to live, study, tuition, meals, and tutoring to support them through secondary school - a truly unique opportunity for Niger's children to break free of the cycle of poverty. As RAIN expands the center, we expect to set a new precedent in Niger. As girls in our mentoring programs graduate from primary school, they will have an option to continue their studies they would otherwise not have. School is a monumental commitment for desert nomadic kids and their families. Going to class means they aren’t able to help their parents forge a living in the dusty pastureland south of the Sahara. Despite the sacrifices, this fall will find these girls attending school with smiles on their faces. Somehow, they know it’s worth it. They know that each additional year in school brings them closer to a better life: More options. Skills to share back home. Better health. Greater independence. The possibility to be one of the lucky few in Niger to go on to high school, or even college.

Mentoring continues at the ALC

RAIN's mentoring program is gaining momentum at the Learning Center. The girls lean on RAIN staff member Halima Aboubacar as a mentor and role model throughout the school year. Meeting with the girls twice a week, Halima instructs and guides in a firm but gentle style. With her guidance, students delegate responsibilities for a variety of posts and chores, and lead informal peer to peer tutoring sessions. With her help, the average success rate of ALC students in the 2014 school year was twice as high as their peers, demonstrating that with the right support, rural students - despite many challenges - can outperform urban students. Those graduating meet with Halima in conjunction with school staff to assist in plans for high school and specialty schools offering degrees in public health, engineering, agriculture and education. In 2015, RAIN plans to extend our mentoring program, drawing from a local women artisan co-operative, to support the growing number of girls at the Learning Center. 

This fall, 12 students are returning,  joined by 13 girls from RAIN mentoring programs beginning their secondary school journey. Remote northern communities such as Gougaram, Tadek, Tchinfiniten, Soulefet, and Tchintelouste will see a new generation of girls going further in their education than ever before. A special effort is being made to seek out and recruit Wodaabe students in these communities, who are the least represented in Niger schools. 

School starts in a few weeks. Because of friends like you, new opportunity is in reach for these desert children of hardship and hope.

On October 15th, GlobalGiving will match your donation to our mentoring program that keeps at-risk rural and nomadic girls succeeding in school by 30%! Matching begins at 9:00 am EDT and lasts until funds run out or 11:59 pm EDT.

Let's do this! Mark your calendar for October 15th and be sure to spread the word...together we can keep more girls in school to be the next generation of students at the Agadez Learning Center.


It's not often that girls in rural Niger are asked about their lives and hopes for the future. RAIN supplied questionairres to the students at the ALC to get to know them better and let them know that their ideas count. Below is a sample from a Wodaabe student.

Dafada Hadiza
Age: 14  Grade: 5

What are common illnesses in your village? Malaria, menengitis, measles, conjunctivitis, fever, back illness.
What is the most difficult part of your life? Life is expensive. We do not take advantage of our culture.
What work did you do as a child? Getting wood and drawing water by mule back. Caring for young goats.
What games did you prefer as a child? Galloping on mule back, playing with clay and a doll, a game called gollel.
What work do you do during your vacations? Helping mother pound millet, bringing wood, herding the flock to pasture, fetching water, embroidering.
What are the recreational activities you prefer? Dancing with my friends, embroidery.
What profession would you like to do when you are an adult? To be a nurse, to help care for the sick.

Tamamounte, Fatima & Dafada enjoying the questions
Tamamounte, Fatima & Dafada enjoying the questions
Faji Hamid
Faji Hamid
Dafada Hadiza
Dafada Hadiza


Tirboye school sign
Tirboye school sign

Since expanding to the southern Tillaberi region of Niger in 2009, RAIN has gained many motivated community partners to take part in the widely popular mentoring program. We're happy to share that the communities of Nassile and Tirboye, with your help, are embarking on this journey of education and new opportunity for girls and women alike.

The initial community meetings, recruitment process and training has taken place - the stage is set for the joyful task of empowering girls to succeed.

Nassile's Mentoring Program

The Nassile School serves several surrounding area hamlets, each of which is represented by a mentor. This arrangement serves to unite the greater community around our important education initiative. As in all RAIN mentoring programs, mentors are teaching their students valuable practical skills, including the craft of straw and stalk weaving that is a tradition in the region.

Salamatou Bilan    
Zeinabou Djibo        
Mariama Yaya        
Beldo Bodo            
Fatimata Boukari
Tirboye's Mentoring Program
The women mentors of Tirboye have been helping their students with the hoeing and planting in their new School Market Garden so they may also dedicate enough time to studying for the CM2 exam that ends the primary school cycle.

Fosse Talata            
Dafarini Tchoga        
Lamouri Kondjoua        
Ramata Mahamane        
Larba Kampalamba

We look forward to updating you in the very near future as these two mentoring programs bloom to give at-risk girls a leg up in school and in life. None of it is possible without your support - thank you!

P.S. GlobalGiving will match each donation to the Mentoring Program 40% starting 9am EST today! Giving today will mean nearly twice the benefit to at-risk girls in Niger....please share this amazing opportunity with your friends and family.

Tirboye mentors help plant the school garden
Tirboye mentors help plant the school garden
Mentor President Salamatou in a craft workshop
Mentor President Salamatou in a craft workshop
Students of Tirboye studying for exams
Students of Tirboye studying for exams
Tirboye Mentor Ramata Mahamane
Tirboye Mentor Ramata Mahamane
Nassile Mentor Zeinabou Djibo
Nassile Mentor Zeinabou Djibo
Tirboye Mentor Lamouri Kondjoua
Tirboye Mentor Lamouri Kondjoua



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Organization Information

Rain for the Sahel and Sahara

Location: Portsmouth, New Hampshire - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Whitney Fleming
Manager Communications & Projects
Portsmouth, NH United States

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